Political ad spending skyrocketed in 2022, and Democrats dominated the field

4 months ago 36

AdImpact's "Cycle-in-Review" report has some eye-popping data about political spending in the 2021-2022 election cycle. The ‘22 midterm was the most expensive midterm election on record, and by lot.

Perhaps most notably, ad spending in 2022 reached $8.92 billion, more than doubling the nearly $4 billion spent in the 2018 midterm. In fact, the cash lavished on the 2022 cycle rivaled the $9.04 billion spent in the 2020 presidential election.

Bar graph showing the funding level from 2018 to 2022 more than doubling.

Given the trends, AdImpact also projects that ad spending next cycle will surpass the $10 billion mark.

Traditional broadcast ($4.7 billion) and cable advertising ($1.7 billion) accounted for roughly three-quarters of overall ad spending, while connected TV (CTV), which is streamed through devices such as Roku or Apple TV, made up about 12% of overall spending.

Democrats really dominated the cycle. Democratic candidates and issue groups outspent Republicans by $390 million in general election spending on House, Senate, and gubernatorial races—$2.11 billion to $1.72 billion

But that advantage doesn't really do the disparity justice. Due to Democratic candidate spending eclipsing that of Republican candidates—$1.06 billion to $498 million—outside GOP groups attempted to fill in the gaps but got a lot less bang for their buck. So even though GOP issue groups outspent Democratic groups by roughly $100 million, Democrats still got more air time.

"Because of the advantageous rates afforded to candidates, this translated to Democrats in House, Senate, and Gubernatorial general elections being able to run nearly 25% more broadcast airings than Republicans," writes AdImpact.

Among the 10 candidates who dropped the most cash in ‘22, seven were Democrats and three were Republicans. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia spent the most of any candidate, buying over $100 million in advertising to seal his reelection bid.

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2022 digital spending on House, Senate, gubernatorial, and downballot races increased from 2020, but the lack of presidential expenditures meant overall spending declined during the midterm cycle, from $1.7 billion on Facebook and Google in 2020 to $980 million in 2022.

Facebook spending totaled $1.1 billion in 2020, falling to $576 million in 2022. Google spending dropped from $584 million in 2020 to $387 million in 2022.

Abortion advertising became one of the cycle's most interesting and defining issues. Before the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe was leaked in early May, Republicans had spent more money on abortion advertising. But after the leaked opinion, Democratic spending on the topic spiked like a unicorn horn, peaking in the final weeks of the cycle.

Graph showing a giant spike in Democratic advertising on abortion after the leaked Scotus decision in early May.

"By the end of 2022, abortion was mentioned in Democratic ads 8.5 times more frequently than in Republican ads," writes AdImpact, calling it a "new phenomenon" for 2022. "Democrats aired more than 10 times as many ads on the topic in 2022 than they did in either 2018 or 2020."

Democrats’ cash advantage this cycle gave an undeniable boost to Democratic candidates, many of whom spent early money to define their opponents and gain a messaging advantage. Republicans were left scrambling to make up the difference in the final months of the campaign and ultimately fell short. GOP groups simply couldn’t match the fire power of Democrats’ grassroots fundraising and the early damage it inflicted on their slate of tragically flawed candidates. 

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